11 July 2024

The defiant message was pretty much expected. You think you have killed us while in fact you have just made us more out of control, Future Forward told its supposed political enemies. The word “party” was marked out of its Facebook page immediately after the Constitutional Court’s ruling ending its existence as a parliamentary unit, symbolizing a possible warning that, with conventional maneuvering no longer an option, the government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha can expect a no-holds-barred campaign.

Good news for Prayut is that such a much-anticipated message accompanied virtually every party dissolution, and threats were usually dealt with. Bad news is that Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit is not Thaksin Shinawatra, whose political downfall was due to relatively weighty allegations of malfeasance and corruption. While disbanding Thaksin’s parties did not make him a martyr, analysts think the same cannot be said about Thanathorn.

This is not saying that Thanathorn is better equipped than Thaksin in an unconventional fight. The latter has had a great network of intellectuals, strategists, foreign supporters and streetfighters. The bloody Ratchaprasong uprising in 2010, together with its before and after, proved that Thaksin was capable of lasting the distance when the gloves came off.

Thanathorn is popular, and he commands more support from the younger generation than Thaksin’s political party. Moreover, those reluctant to admire Thaksin due to cases like the “servants’ shares”, the Takbai deaths, the Ratchadapisek land controversy, among others, feel a lot more comfortable backing Thanathorn. Granted, Future Forward benefited handsomely from the dissolution of Thaksin’s Thai Raksachart Party, but the “Thanathorn fever” was real.

So, the question of “What’s next for Future Forward and Thanathorn?” needs taking many things into account. Are the young Thai generation, their big support base, willing to fight like the red shirts? What will Pheu Thai do _ join hands fully with Future Forward or smile inside and reinforce its status as the biggest camp “on the other side”? Will Future Forward endorse a Bangkok gubernatorial candidate and hope to give its rivals a big slap in the face? Will the Bangkok gubernatorial election bring Future Forward and Pheu Thai together or make them drift apart? Will current Future Forward MPs stick together, or will some of them gravitate toward the government side?

One of the most important, immediate issues is who will be a new face to represent rebranded Future Forward in Parliament. Pita Limjaroenrat is the name of the hours, because he has been seen as a rising star in Parliament and Thanathorn’s gestures in the wake of the fateful Constitutional Court ruling were seen as a big endorsement. Another name should not be completely ruled out, though. With controversies engulfing Thanathorn, Piyabutr Sangkanokkul and Pannika Wanich, Chaithawat Tulathon has managed to fly under the radar. Not anymore.

If Pita becomes the new, official leader, Chaithawat will still have a big role to play. He has been deputy party secretary-general but his revolutionary political ideology is said to be stronger than most in Future Forward. Moreover, he and Thanathorn worked together during their student activism days.

Another key question is whether Thanathorn and his troops would continue their “Yoo Mai Pen” (Living dangerously) approach, which can possibly, in Piyabutr’s words, make things catch fire quicker but can also court all kinds of trouble, or whether they would become more prudent this time. The “Yoo Mai Pen” strategy may suit an all-out political warfare, but even sympathisers say it can blur the need for legal cautiousness which is important, especially in the Thai political context.

Last but not least, much has to do with how the double-edged sword of foreign support will pan out. The pros for Future Forward involve encouragement or even covert assistance. The cons are risks of galvanizing Future Forward’s rivals, bringing them more together like when foreign backing for Thaksin created resentment that caught fire as well.

What lies ahead for Future Forward, therefore, depends on many interrelated factors. The dissolved party has sarcastically described itself as “Yoo Mai Pen”, which basically means living dangerously or not knowing how to live, but if the disbanding effected by the Constitution Court is tantamount to a death, more important now is “how to die.”

Which is a very difficult and complex question.

By Tulsathit Taptim